On Monday, Jan. 18, at the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in downtown Atlanta, we had over thirty inter-generational participants from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta marching with the Standing on the Side of Love banner.
As usual, there was quite a delay in getting started as we waited for the end of the annual worship service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, this year featuring Cornel West and our new mayor Kaseem Reed. In the hour-and-a-half or more we were watching for the traditional contingent of dignitaries to begin their walk and our time to join in, I decided to organize a walking choir, and we practiced the two hymns we mostly all knew and felt were appropriate for this occasion: We Are a Gentle, Angry People and This Little Light of Mine.
As we moved out, we deliberately pitched our songs to the crowds that lined Peachtree Street and then up on to the famous Sweet Auburn Avenue, center of so much of the civil rights activity in “the day.” We sang about being justice- seeking people, black and white, young and old, gay and straight, together. We talked about letting our lights shine, building up a world.
Halfway into the march, one of our members and I talked about whether we could actually teach the song “Standing on the Side of Love” to our band of marchers on the move. First, a few learned the chorus, then a few more, then most of them, adding this to our small but lusty repertoire.
Along the way, we saw smiles and support, but we also saw contempt in response to our signs and our identity, and the messages we were conveying visually and musically.
Right outside the original Ebenezer Baptist Church building (now a national historical site), some men were shouting anti-gay and anti- Jewish rhetoric after seeing our banner and our people marching. We met their hateful shouts with a rousing sing of “Standing on the Side of Love.” We sang it not once, not twice, but three times, directly back at them, with lilting melody and emotional conviction.
In the words of our intern minister, Julie Lepp, at that moment, we lived out our values of faith in action and meeting hate with the power of love.